High expectations

Considering a thread on 59 Carden regarding the value of the new splash pad, perhaps it’s now time for us to take a step back and re-evaluate our assumptions, our expectations of what will happen as a result of parking an impressively expensive new library in the core, a block or so from the library we have now. Especially for what it will mean for Downtown businesses.

Where a new library figures into downtown revitalization and where our merchants are concerned, the reasoning seems, well, disconnected, especially when considering the costs involved: “Our Downtown shops and restaurants are amazing, in fact some of the best shops and restaurants in the city are downtown” (OK, let’s go with that), and, “We need to stimulate economic activity in the core.”

How many of our downtown “businesses” can we reasonably expect to gain from moving the library, and to what extent? What kind of up-tick will we see for the professional and medical offices, the bars (or for the government offices and the courts, which are apparently also counted as downtown businesses)? Given the combined floor space of certain types of businesses, what is the net impact of this project for commercial activity in this node?

I also have to question how significantly different end-of-day sales will be for merchants in the core once the dust settles with the completion of a new library. Yes, we should expect a period of better sales for these downtown businesses when the new library opens. But then what? What it will all translate into beyond that initial period is something we should take a second look at, with actual shops and restaurants in mind.

What can of worms are we opening with this?

Sure, investing in this node by way of capital investments should enhance it, just as anything could be if you threw enough money at it — if the existing businesses can survive the disruption — and at least at first, it should lead to more economic activity.

At first, perhaps most merchants will move their inventory faster. Maybe even hire another staff. Perhaps. How long will it last? What really has changed about the shops and restaurants to draw more consumers in, compared to what is happening now? What will compel library patrons to spend money that they aren’t already? What is the real capacity for existing merchants to do more?

Will some of them be displaced by higher rents? The end game is supposed to be higher Downtown tax assessments flowing to City Hall, isn’t it? How were we otherwise supposed to pay for all of this?

Who is the roadkill on the way to a “revitalized” Downtown? Remember, it’s not like we don’t have a library in the neighbourhood already, providing at least some stimulus to the core, presumably.

As a prediction, most of the economic spin-offs of this project will be part of the construction phase, with the lion’s share of those spin-offs happening outside of the downtown, likely outside the city, with the lion’s share of the disruption felt by the merchants.

So, who will be the winners in this? Who will be the losers?

The problem is, it seems, City Hall treats the downtown as an extension of the Corporation that is the City of Guelph. It seems as though the City regards itself as a mall landlord of sorts when it comes to decisions involving that node we call Downtown.

Like it or not, it is our vanity project. And in my opinion, this obsession has led to decisions that are not in the best interests of the whole, the small-c city we call home.

Which brings us back to the energy around the “free” splash pad recreation feature at City Hall. Nevermind that we have parks for that sort of thing, while parks in the city are not so helpful in providing downtown parking, especially at City Hall.

I can appreciate, as someone who does on occasion frequent the downtown, and spends money there, that the City’s celebration of Itself with everyone’s tax dollars does touch a nerve when the focus is so unbalanced, against the Rest of Guelph.

A splash pad at City Hall: Really? Was that a High Priority for us?

What about City Hall’s Hinterland?

About Craig Chamberlain

Ward 3 Guelph resident, dad and step-dad.
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